Imagine you are out driving, and you decide to roll through a stop sign. You know you shouldn’t, but you’re in a quiet intersection. You don’t see any on-coming traffic, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Suddenly, a speeding car slams into your side. You hadn’t noticed them through the bushes in your view. If they had been going the proper speed limit, you could have avoided the accident.
Now you’re in a quandary. If you had stopped properly, you would not have been hit. However, if they had been driving reasonably, you would have stopped for them. Who is responsible for the accident, and who should pay for the damages? To answer this, you must understand “comparative negligence.”
The law recognizes that in any personal injury case, there is often blame to go around. The smallest missteps can contribute to a car accident, even when someone was blindsided. For this reason, most states operate under a system of comparative negligence.
Negligence is the driving force in determining fault. To understand negligence, focus on what a driver failed to do in the accident. In our example, you failed to stop completely, and the other driver failed to follow the speed limit. You were both negligent in obeying traffic laws.
What matters now is who was more negligent. In a personal injury lawsuit, the court makes that decision. It hears the facts of the case, and it assigns a percentage of fault for the crash. In our scenario, the court decides that the speeding driver was 75% responsible for the crash since they didn’t give you time to react. It also determines that you were 25% responsible because there would not have been a crash if you had come to a complete stop.
From here, the court doles out compensation according to these percentages. The plaintiff can receive damages according to the defendant’s percentage of fault. Let’s say the total amount of damages is $100,000. Because the defendant is only 75% at fault, the plaintiff can receive only 75% of the total damages. This means that you, the plaintiff, can walk away with $75,000.
A handful of states use a “pure” comparative negligence model, California among them. In this model, the plaintiff can receive damages even if they were 99% responsible for the accident. Per our $100,000 example, a 99% responsible plaintiff can receive $1,000, or 1% of damages.
At-Fault Insurance Claims
Before rushing off to court, you should try to handle your car accident through insurance first. In California’s model, the at-fault driver’s insurer handles damages to all parties in the accident.
Comparative negligence applies to insurance. After a car accident, both insurance companies will have questions about the wreck. They want to decide for themselves who is at fault and what amount should be paid. If they determine that you are 25% responsible for the crash, they will give you 75% of the damages. Your insurer should cover the other 25%.
Even going through insurance, you may need help from a lawyer. Insurance companies have a reputation for avoiding paying benefits. Perhaps there is a dispute over who is at fault, and payments are delayed. Maybe they accuse you of more fault than is reasonable, cutting your benefits down. A good attorney can fight back against the bad faith actions of an insurance company and help you get the compensation you need.
If you’ve been injured in a car accident, even if you feel partially responsible, contact our office today. With a free consultation, we can assess your case. You may find that you are less liable than you believe, and we can help you fight for the damages you deserve. You can reach us online or call our office at (916) 778-3228.